Audacity, Awakening
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Ox Herding

The essence of my spiritual journey is captured by the Chinese Cha’an Buddhist spiritual practice called Ox Herding.

A young boy hears tales of experiences in altered reality which he comes to name the illusive ox. Having grown up in a culture where his true nature has been distorted and even forgotten he audaciously goes in search of it. Greed for worldly goods and fear of loss rise up like flames around him. Ideas of right and wrong lead him astray. He begins to fear the ox is just a legend. But he perseveres. Up and down mountain paths, across turbulent rivers, through trackless woods, he travels seeking the ox. On his journey he begins to see signs of the ox. Ancient texts and traditions attempt to show him the way. Each path distinctly different and yet each a manifestation of the Self. He begins to see the tracks of the ox, even though he is as yet unable to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, truth from falsity. He travels ever on.

Emerging one day into daylight he experiences his first glimpse of the ox. Though he cannot see it clearly. With eyes focused to truly see, and ears attuned to truly hear, the best he can manage is a glimpse. But for this he is ecstatic. After many years and much practice he encounters the ox cavorting in open fields. For a moment he actually grasps its lead rope. The ox is awesome and wild. It cannot be tamed. He employs spiritual disciplines to tame his own nature and so catch the ox. He tries many times to lasso the ox and fails. With time and practice the two however become frequent companions. Living in divine mystery he discovers his true nature. Thereby the boy comes to tame the ox. Untethered it will follow him anywhere.

His struggles now over, he rides the ox home. Sitting astride the ox he gazes serenely upon all that is. He is content. Only while riding the ox is he able to return home. The search was worthwhile. Yet he is still living in delusion. The duality which led him to seek the ox continues to burden his being. Eventually, through enduring many spiritual adventures together, the ox and the boy become one, but of course they have always been so. There is a love between them that passes beyond understanding. The illusion of selfhood falls away. The boy discovers he is both the seeker and the ox. Returning to the source of all being they transcend categorical thinking. There is no reality and no illusion. All is one. All exists and everything is an illusion.

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